Atlanta Braves Fire GM Frank Wren
The Atlanta Braves fired general manager Frank Wren on Monday, less than 24 hours after being eliminated from the NL playoff race.
The move was announced by team president John Schuerholz, who called it a "cumulative" decision based on the team's performance and troubling signs in player development.
Former Cleveland and Texas general manager John Hart replaces Wren on an interim basis. While the 66-year-old Hart said it wasn't his desire to take the job permanently, Schuerholz said it's possible he would be considered.
"It is our goal and our emphasis to find that Braves' way again, to reinvigorate it and make it better than it's ever been before," Schuerholz said at a Turner Field news conference.
The Braves put together a search committee of Schuerholz, Hart and retired manager Bobby Cox to conduct the search for the next general manager. The team also dismissed Wren's right-hand man, assistant general manager Bruce Manno.
Still to be determined is the fate of the team's manager, Fredi Gonzalez.
Schuerholz said the new GM would likely have a big say in determining if Gonzalez returns in 2015, though the fact that no change was made at manager clearly indicates he still has the support of the three-man search committee.
Cox, in fact, said he believes Gonzalez has done an "outstanding" job in his four years as manager, leading the Braves to a wild-card berth in 2012 and an NL East title last season.
"The team has not quit at all," said Cox, who has been an adviser to Schuerholz since retiring after the 2010 season. "I'm still familiar with the clubhouse, and it's as high energy as you could get under the circumstances. I think Fredi has done a remarkable job since taking over for me."
Wren was in his 15th season with the Braves and his seventh as the club's general manager. He was appointed to the GM post after the 2007 season, when Schuerholz gave up the job to become team president.
While the Braves made the playoffs three times during Wren's tenure, he drew heavy criticism for the big-money contracts of second baseman Dan Uggla and center fielder B.J. Upton.
Uggla was released in July, even though he was still owed $13 million this season and the next. Upton is looking like one of the biggest free-agent busts in baseball history, with three more years remaining on a $75.25 million, five-year contract. The outfielder was hitting .207 with 11 homer and 34 RBIs, which is actually an improvement on his first year with Atlanta.
The Braves have been one of baseball's biggest disappointments this season. A half-game behind the Washington Nationals for the NL East lead on July 29, Atlanta plummeted out of contention by winning just 18 of its next 49 games.
Wren and Manno didn't help their cause with what some perceived as a dictatorial style, causing key people in player development to leave the organization.
"In this job, you've got to be able to delegate, you've got to be able to encourage, you've got to be the guy who walks in the door when you've lost four straight and picks your manager up," Hart said.
Going into the final week of the regular season, the Braves were 15 games behind the Nationals and eliminated from the wild-card race after losing 14 of their last 18 games, a slump that has included five shutouts. Atlanta has gone nine straight games without scoring more than three runs.
The Braves have one of the NL's best team ERAs, despite losing projected starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to season-ending injuries in spring training. But the lack of consistent offense has plagued the team all season and could lead to changes on the coaching staff. It seems likely that hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher will not return in 2015, even if Gonzalez keeps his job.
Wren was fired after the Braves were swept at home this past weekend by the New York Mets, scoring only four runs in three games.
A former GM of the Baltimore Orioles, Wren served eight seasons as Schuerholz's lieutenant and moved into the top job when the long-time Braves GM decided to take a lesser role in day-to-day operations.
"Baseball is an evolving game," Schuerholz said. "I don't think we whiffed (on hiring Wren) seven years ago at all. He deserved a chance. I thought we made the right choice then, and I think we made the right choice now."
Hart joined the Braves last November as a senior adviser for baseball operations. He was general manager of the Indians for a decade through 2001, then spent four years in the same job with the Rangers. He is now an analyst with MLB Network in addition to his role with the Braves.
The 73-year-old Schuerholz, who oversaw a run of 14 straight division titles while serving as the team's GM from 1991 to 2007, said he would not return to his old job but seemed to catch Hart a bit off guard by refusing to rule him out.
"We have not completely closed or opened that door," Schuerholz said, looking at Hart with a smile. "That's what he meant to say."